LAST Tuesday, the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, Siobhan McDonagh used a debate in parliament to highlight the barbaric and dangerous conditions homeless families are being forced to endure through local authorities dumping them in temporary accommodation that in many cases are nothing more than slums.
In particular, she highlighted that there are 78,180 households in temporary accommodation in England and this figure includes more than 120,000 children. These figures do not take into account those forced to rent directly from private landlords.
In July this year, the Local Government Association reported that councils across England are putting 120,540 children along with their families in so-called temporary shelter, an increase of 40% in the past three years.
In her moving speech, McDonagh highlighted the situation in the London Borough of Mitcham where some 200 children, and their families, have been placed at Connect House by four local authorities. Connect House is a converted office block in the middle of a working industrial estate where the MP stressed children are at risk from lorries and heavy machinery moving around neighbouring businesses.
With nowhere safe to play these children are condemned to being incarcerated in tiny cramped single rooms and forced to use unsanitary communal areas. For this the owners of Connect House charge between £30-£40 per room a night. This picture of appalling conditions is not just confined to Connect House.
The drive by local councils to ‘solve’ the housing crisis created by the Tory attack on social housing, cuts in benefits that have led to evictions for non-payment of rent and the huge rents demanded by private landlords has seen an explosion in the use of poor privately-owned accommodation for homeless families.
Bedsits, hostels and now converted offices smack in the middle of industrial estates are the new dumping ground. Housing and homeless charities are speaking out about poor children being crammed into ‘slum-land’ bedsits, some of which are so dangerous that families end up being referred to social services for help.
An outreach worker with the charity School-Home Support said: ‘Call it a slum, call it what you like, lots of families live like this and it’s not safe.’ The charity, which supports struggling families in London and south-east England, says it increasingly has to step in to prevent families placed in risky housing from facing danger.
While the councils and the Tory government like to claim that these are temporary shelters, McDonagh pointed out in her speech that three-quarters of families in temporary accommodation in London have been there for six months, with one-in-ten there for a not-so-temporary five years.
She added that ‘more than 100 councils across the country have households who have been living in temporary accommodation for more than a year’. In addition to this, more than 28% of households in temporary accommodation are dumped outside their local authority area. London councils place a staggering 36% of households in other areas as far afield as Bradford, Wolverhampton and even Glasgow. According to the Communities and Local Government Committee this should be ‘an action of the last resort’ but clearly for the poor and homeless the last resort is now the only future they face.
In London, with entire blocks of council houses being razed to the ground to make way for the property speculators to move in and build luxury apartments that will provide them with millions in profit, the question of housing is a revolutionary issue. There can be no solution to the crisis of homelessness for workers and their families under a capitalist system that views housing not as a basic human right but as a commodity to be exploited for the huge profit of the capitalist class.
The only solution for workers is to put an end to this capitalist system by forcing the TUC to organise a general strike to kick out this weak, decaying Tory government and go forward to a workers government and socialism. A workers government will nationalise the building industry, the banks and the land and carry out the massive programme of building affordable, safe housing for all as part of a planned socialist economy.